Michael Weil
Wandering Jewish communal guy with an opinion

Can the Abraham Accords be the answer for the day after in Gaza?

A “day after” solution for Gaza largely has eluded the best policy makers in the Middle East and beyond. While great political leaders and the public are pushing towards the goal of a ceasefire, careful planning for a viable long term future of Gaza is vital. Many alternatives have been proposed in order to bring a finite end to the conflict, but none have been deemed either acceptable or feasible.

Additionally, there is a governance vacuum in Gaza as Hamas is being removed, and it may take years before a locally rooted government can emerge. This suggests the need for some outside intervention and here too, as described below, the few options that exist are not acceptable to all parties. A new and fresh approach might be to build on the achievements of the Abraham Accords and use the Accords as a platform to facilitate the interim future of Gaza.

The Abraham Accords were established in September 2020 as a means to normalize relations among Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Normalization set the stage for cooperation in business, trade, tourism, energy, the environment, science, medicine and culture. Integral to the agreements,  the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain formally recognized Israel and established full diplomatic relations. In following months, Sudan and Morrocco joined the Accords, bringing a total of five member countries.

Over the last three years, the Accords have expanded and developed, and significant advances have been made in most of the areas of cooperation. For example, according to the Abraham Accords Peace Institute, in 2022, trade expanded to $3.37 billion and 470,000 Israelis visited the Accord countries, and these connections have continued to expand in 2023.

The successes of the Abraham Accords changed the dynamics of the Middle East. Critically, they underlined the notion that bilateral and multilateral relations among Middle East Arab countries and Israel can lower the threats from other regional powers such as Iran.

Immediately after October 7, there was some concern among supporters of the Accords as to whether the Abraham Accords might be threatened. So far, Bahrain was the only signature country to review diplomatic relations with Israel by temporarily recalling ambassadors. Otherwise, relations among the Accord members are strained but have held strong.

To date, the Abraham Accords have largely steered away from the Palestinian issue. On the one hand, the Arab members for the first time ever did not make progress towards a Palestinian state a condition for normalization, while on the other hand, they have not made any moves towards political solutions or interventions beyond the bilateral diplomatic relations with Israel. It is my contention that for the Abraham Accords to sustain and thrive, it needs to make contributions towards political objectives and that now is the time for such moves to demonstrate further the raison d’etre for the Accords.

The search for alternative solutions for the day after the war in Gaza ends have been inconclusive so far. On the one extreme, there is a small minority on the far right in Israel who believe that Israel should reoccupy Gaza and rebuild Jewish settlements there while encouraging Gazans to leave the territory. On the other end of the spectrum, some see the crisis in Gaza as a path towards establishing a full Palestinian state with self-government in Gaza by the Palestinian Authority. In between are the Israeli position that any solution must remove all threat to its towns and villages in Southern Israel and eliminate Hamas in Gaza. To this end, Israel will need to maintain a military presence in Gaza during the intermediate phase to guarantee its own security. Israel also claims that the Palestinian Authority in its current form should not be allowed to take over governing Gaza. The American position is that a reformed Palestinian Authority be invited to govern a demilitarized Gaza while the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) would manage external security. The ultimate goal should be a two-state solution. Other suggestions have involved Egypt taking over Gaza as it did until 1967 but so far it has expressed strong reluctance to do so.

All of these proposals are problematic in one way or another and many do not provide answers to some of the basic needs of a post war Gaza settlement, namely:

  • A demilitarised Gaza that ceases to be a security threat to Israel.
  • A democratic government of Gaza, free from corruption and outside influence, which will work in the interests and welfare of the local population.
  • Hamas cannot be allowed either a political or a military presence in Gaza.
  • Rebuilding of Gaza and humanitarian aid is an urgent priority.
  • Ultimately, the withdrawal of the Israel Defence Forces from Gaza.

Sadly, Gaza is currently not in a position to democratically rule itself at this time. It does not possess the leadership necessary nor the mechanisms to hold fair elections and the danger is that in any elections, Hamas or other militant or terrorist groups might emerge with a majority. The obvious alternative of bringing the Palestinian Authority (PA) back to govern Gaza (as it did till the Hamas coup in 2007) is that it has been proved to be highly corrupt and inefficient such that Israel as well as many Gazans have no trust in the PA to operate fairly and safely. Israel while determined to continue to be involved in the security of Gaza, has largely no interest in governing the territory.

This leaves a vacuum for some form of outside intervention. Israel does not trust the United Nations, especially after its own agency, UNRWA, was recently found to be riddled with Hamas operatives. The United States is reluctant to get involved after having been embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan for many years. And as said earlier, Egypt prefers not to be directly involved.

It is exactly at this moment that the Abraham Accords members might be invited to take a major role. A coalition of Abraham Accords nations could provide the backbone for an interim civil government in Gaza, until such time as democratic elections can be held and long-term solutions to Gaza and the West Bank can be considered.

In parallel, the Abraham Accord countries could also create a temporary joint military presence in Gaza that will ensure both internal and external security, in cooperation and coordination with Israel. This might take a similar form to the NATO led Implementation Force (IFOR) which was a multinational peace enforcement force that operated in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995-6.

Additionally, most of the Abraham Accords countries possess considerable wealth and could contribute some of the vast sums required to rebuild Gaza, develop its economy and promote infrastructure projects. This could include creating a Gaza Development Bank, funded by the Abraham Accords countries, with additional partners such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the European Union, the World Bank and the United States.

It is interesting to note that recently on February 8, a meeting took place in Riyadh between the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority and they agreed to move forward with plans to present a joint political vision for rehabilitating the Gaza Strip and establishing a Palestinian state after the Israel-Hamas war, according to a report in the Times of Israel. It is not clear what that joint political vision will be but the fact that major Middle East countries are trying to bring about a political solution bodes well for the Abraham Accord countries to be involved.

On the other hand, it is noted that the Palestinian Authority has been one of the main opponents of the Abraham Accords and may well object to its involvement in Gaza. This is understandable as the very basis of the Accords was to sideline the Palestinian cause. However, making establishment of a Palestinian state as an ultimate goal of the effort might well be persuasion enough to facilitate acceptance by the PA.

We do understand that there might be some reluctance among some of the Abraham Accord partners to get engaged in the political dimension of the Middle East, and in particular, as it will relate to Gaza and the territories. Not all the partner countries share identical political visions of the Middle East and the Israel Palestine issue, and reaching a consensus on joint intervention may be difficult.

There are also risks involved. Should the proposed intervention in Gaza fail or reach major obstacles, there is a concern that repercussions might damage the trade, tourism, environment and other relations that have been developed over the last few years and even threaten the very existence of the Abraham Accords.

Having created and earned the trust of Israel and the partner nations over the last three years, the Abraham Accord members are in a better position than any other entity to act as major players in the interim solution for Gaza. They would also demonstrate to the world that the Abraham Accords are stable, enduring and valuable, and that engaging former belligerent actors in positive actions can provide alternative outcomes to conflict.

Furthermore, the involvement of the Abraham Accords in the current Gaza crisis could serve as an impetus not only to expand and deepen the Accords but ultimately lead to other major positive outcomes such as normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia and possibly create a path to a two-state solution.

Abraham was himself a peacemaker. He would be proud.

About the Author
Michael Weil is an British born economist and strategic planning consultant based in Jerusalem and Arizona. Until recently, he was the Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and led the recovery of the community after hurricane Katrina. Previously, he was a fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, held senior positions at World ORT and the Israel Prime Minister’s Office as well as heading an international consulting practice for two decades. He is active on boards in Israel and USA. Loves to paint, hike, opera and dry jokes.